Pine Beetle Plague

Ponderosa Pine Northern Mountain Beetle Plague

Kingdom: Animal

Phylum: Arthropod

Class: Insect

Order: Coleoptera

Family: Curculionidae
Subfamily: Scolytinae

Genus: Dendroctonus
Species: D. ponderosae

Pine Beetles have been decimating the forests of Montana, Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, and parts of Canada. The current outbreak of mountain pine beetles is exponentially larger than previous outbreaks. It is the worst outbreak ever seen by many loggers, as millions of acres of trees have died since 2007.

The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, is a species of bark beetle native to the forests of western North America, from Mexico to Canada. It has a hard black exoskeleton and measures less than half an inch. Mountain Pine Beetles inhabit the mountain pines trees for which they are named; particularly: Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Mountain White Pines such as Limber and Scrub Pines, and Scots Pine. Other pines are less commonly attacked.

During early stages of an outbreak, trees already injured from poor site conditions, disease, old age, overcrowding, storm or fire damage are attacked. As beetle populations increase, healthy trees are attacked. The beetles kill the trees by boring through the bark and feeding on the phloem layer, where they lay eggs. Pioneer female beetles initiate attacks, and produce pheromones attracting other beetles for mass attack. The trees respond to attack by increasing their resin output to defend itself. In addition to the amount of burrows, the beetles carry blue stain fungi, which can block the tree resin defense. Over time (usually within 2 weeks of attack), the trees are overwhelmed as the phloem layer is damaged enough to cut the flow of water and nutrients. In the end, the trees starve to death.
The damage can be seen from afar, in the form of reddened needles. Entire groves of trees after an outbreak will appear reddish for this reason. Usually, the older trees die first. After long and hot summers, the mountain pine beetle population can increase dramatically, which leads to the deforestation of large areas, and wild fires.

White pines are slow-growing trees and may not even bear cones until they are a half-century old. John Muir counted tree rings in the California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. One white pine trunk was just six inches across, yet over 400 years old.

WARNING: Rising temperatures during longer summers speed up beetle metabolism, and therefore not only increases their diet, but also speeds up their cycle of reproduction. It may be the largest forest insect blight ever recorded in North America. Climate Change has worsened the situation so far, and Climate Change is furthered by the significant effects of the plague on forest capability to filter greenhouse gases.

Here are some mixed approach recommendations if you are a property owner with trees that are dying:

1. Cut the dead ones, and keep thinning your woods (just as you would for fire protection)

2. On single trees you can try packs of pheromones, but the effectiveness is uncertain. Like with Deer repellent there are too many variables that get in the way of the desired effect.

3. Hire a company to spray your woods (get together with others)

* Fun Fragging Facts:

The lifespan of a single pine beetle is about one year.

Temperatures less than −40 °C for days, kills most pine beetles.

Although Climate changes may be increasing plagues in warmer areas, some hope may lie in Climate changed areas that are colder, with longer winters (like winter 2010 on the East Coast).

Creative Humans Vs. small crushable Beetles = Humans win!


4 Responses to “Pine Beetle Plague”

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